Most of you know I love to visit historic houses—usually in England where my books are set. But this past weekend, I toured a historic home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
We were there to visit my younger brother, his wife, and their three girls for a weekend of board games, swimming, walks, and boat rides (and yes, Pokemon Go). Touring a historic house was icing on the cake. I’m glad my brother and sister-in-law suggested it. It was probably top-of-mind for them because her mom has recently begun training as a docent there. Her enthusiastic descriptions of the place made us even more eager to see it. But to get there, you pretty much have to go by Lake Geneva Cruise boat. I admit I was a little nervous when I saw the size of the boat (small) and heard the words “A three hour tour.” Especially with high winds and choppy waves.
Thankfully Brian and I had raincoats along due to the weather forecast, which turned out to be incorrect—at least as far as the skies were concerned. However, as the boat sped from the dock, water sprayed us—like a hose in the face—and waves continued to splash us for much of the trip. What else could we do but wince and laugh and thank that mistaken weatherman who inspired us to bring rain gear. Some other passengers were not as fortunate.
On the way, we saw many amazing houses. Geneva Lake has more gems of architecture than a ruby necklace. Eventually we stopped at another dock, and climbed 120 steps up a steep hill to a beautiful Queen Anne-style summer house built by the Seipp family.
Conrad Seipp was a German immigrant who arrived in America with almost nothing, and established a successful brewing company. (These rags-to-riches stories always remind me what a great country of opportunity and blessings America was, and in my humble opinion, still is.) He lived in Chicago (where I was born) and traveled to this lovely Wisconsin lake with his family for fresh air and relaxation, as did many wealthy Chicagoans. (To this day most Lake Geneva residents are from Illinois.) He built the house in 1888. With no roads, building materials had to be transported from Chicago by rail, then across Geneva Lake by boat. Constructing the twenty-room Victorian “cottage” was an enormous undertaking, especially considering its remote location on the lake. I read that Seipp’s wife burst into tears when she saw the size of the house and realized how much work it would be to keep it running smoothly. (I’d cry, too. I can’t even keep my three-bedroom house tidy.)
The estate is now known as Black Point. The name didn’t sound all that old to me, and sure enough we learned that the family had changed the name from “Die Lorelei” (after a German poem) to show their American loyalty and avoid anti-German sentiment after World War I.
For 120 years, generations of the Seipp family spent their summers there. One of the things that makes Black Point unique is that is has all its original furnishings, some dating back to before the Civil War. In 2005, Conrad Seipp’s great-grandson donated the home to the state of Wisconsin fully furnished—dishes, linens, medicines, dollhouse, piano, books, and photographs–to be made into a museum.
I don’t think you’d want to visit my house if I left it in its usual state, 🙂 but Black Point Estate is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in the area. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying travels or fun with family this summer, too.